This is by far the single most exciting and amazing experice during my time blogging, so grab a cuppa and settle down and listen to me brag and gush!
So the story begins with an email inviting me to the above named press trip. PRESS TRIP, AY? I had decided I wanted to go within seconds of reading the information – tours of Scottish food and drink producers in the Perthshire and Fife areas to showcase the area in advance of the Ryder Cup. I was already excited but then one name leapt off the page…The Gleneagles Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa. FOR AN OVERNIGHT STAY.
Between the 23rd and 28th September, for the first time since 1973, and for only the second in the history of The Ryder Cup, Scotland will proudly play host to the greatest tournament in match play golf. The excitement will take place at the magnificent Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire. I’m going to write about the hotel stay separately as I spent several hours there, ate a lot of food and enjoyed a pretty decent room!
Highland Spring Water
The tour kicked off with a tour of the Highland Spring factory as they are the official bottled water supplier for the matches. I was like a big kid – it was so exciting from start to finish. We started with some health and safety…
Such a…ehhhh…flattering picture of me! #safetybeforefashion
We then walked round the bottling plant to see how the bottled water takes shape. I know what you’re thinking, it’s bottled water…yawn. You’re wrong. It was really cool. The plastic bottles are bought in as thumb sized test tubes with the screw top lid piece being the only recognisable part.
These are put in a huge machine which heats the plastic, spins it around and blows it up to the bottle you and I see in the shops. It took us at least half an hour to 45 minutes to walk round the factory and see all the machinery – which is mesmerising to watch. In that 45 minutes, two whole production runs would have completed and a new one would have started. Which is insane. Want to know what else is insane? For the year, they’re on target to produce 198k litres of water….yet only using 2% of the water in the natural source. I know Scotland is full of rain and water, but jeez-o! 20 minutes to take the test tube-like plastic, inflate it, fill it with water, label, package and pack the water. They’re very efficient!
The tour became very exciting (for me) and slightly terrifying (for everyone else) when we were taken by a Land Rover to the top of the cairn. If you’ve seen Ace Ventura 2, think of the part where he’s singing ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and that’s pretty much what the drive uphill was like – crazily bumpy, squeaks from the passengers, giggling from me and constant clunking of seat belts as we bounced and bounded uphill (with a few occasions of high revs and sliding back downhill!) to the top.
We saw one of the many boreholes (last picture) and our trusty tour guide taught us all we need to know about how they ‘mine’ the water and produce it. I will never drink a bottle of Highland Spring without thinking ‘this water was filtered through the gorgeous Scottish countryside for 15 years before being bottled, labelled and packed in 20 minutes’!
Gloagburn Farm Shop & Deli
We returned to Highland Spring HQ for some lunch which was provided by Gloagburn Farm Shop.
We had a selection of sandwiches which were absolutely gorgeous – I ate and enjoyed my first egg sandwich! It looked so nice that I tried it and it tasted so good that I finished it! My work colleagues in particular will understand how big a deal this is as I really can’t stand cold egg! We also had a piece of fruit, a tub of something from the deli – mine was pickled beetroot and cabbage, which went down a treat with my roast beef sandwich – Malteaser cake(!), banana cake and a carton of juice. It was fantastic. I’m going to take a trip to the farm shop and buy some of their deli products because what I sampled was so fresh and delicious!
Stewart Tower Dairy
Stewart Tower Dairy can be found just outside of Perth and is a self sufficient farm. They’re both an arable farm and a dairy farm. They take sustainability seriously and that’s evident from them growing their own straw to feed the animals in their dairy farm, breeding their own cattle, milking them, pasteurising the milk and even thing like having their own windmill installed to generate power. It’s a great place to visit, especially with children, as they have the goats, sheep, pigs and a Shetland pony outside and a lovely farm shop and ice cream parlour inside.
We took a tour through the dairy farm and met some of the cows before seeing the ice cream parlour and tasting some. I tasted coconut and chilli ice cream which was amazing – I can imagine it being served as an amuse bouche or an intermediary course. It was nice and creamy and coconutty but then a wave of heat as an after taste.
I ordered the blackcurrant froyo and the peanut crunch. They don’t go together but I wasn’t even caring. So much yum!
Cairnie Fruit Farm
On day two we ventured east towards St Andrews and made our first stop at Cairnie Fruit Farm. Scotland is famed for its berries, especially those grown in the Tayside area. This area has normal Scottish rain but is also a sun trap which helps produce the most glorious fruit.
My favourite part was walking through the cherry orchard and being allowed to pick cherries as I went. They were so juicy and sweet. I spent the next while munching on cherries, red currants, brambles, raspberries, Tayberries and strawberries before we headed to the cafe for lunch. Yes, I was able to eat my own weight in berries and have a lunch. I’m trained for such activities!
Home made pâté, home made chutney, oatcakes, toast, Cairnie Farm fruits, a side salad and some home baked sandwiches. The chutney was really delicious and aromatic – it had the normal tartness of chutney but I could taste warm mixed spice taste through it. It was perfect with the smooth, creamy pâté. They made some home made Ribena which is a new product they’re trying out – it is so mild and refreshing, and nothing like the sugary nightmare that us real Ribena!
For what you pay in a supermarket, you can quadruple the quantity for the price you pay and in terms of the quality, that’s maths I can’t do! I’m going to go back at Hallowe’en for their festive fun and to get myself a real pumpkin. They even do blue ones! You can pre-order them and request your name to be carved now so that when the pumpkin is fully grown it’s branded with your name! Genius!
This character filled brewery was a fun experience, especially because we got to visit them during a transitional phase. The brewery is undergoing renovations to extend their brewing capabilities as well as provide seating areas, an atmospheric warehouse as well as a gin bar. I’ll be going back later this year so keep your eyes peeled.
We were here for a beer tasting, but as I’m not a beer fan I just watched and listened. The people I was with really enjoyed the beer, so as far as I could see, it was given their seal of approval!
The staff are clearly a really wonderful team. Their chemistry as a team was contagious – they all seemed to love their job, be passionate about their produced and were very excited about giving us a tour, which is something they do regularly. For me, I’m dying to see this gin bar! I can’t wait to go back!
St Andrews Old Course Hotel
We ended the tour at the über-glamorous St Andrews Old Course Hotel for a spot of afternoon tea in their conservatory which has stunning views of the sea and the golf course.
We were treated to our own personal pots of tea so that we could choose different types of tea. We then had a selection of sandwiches, scones with various topping available and then some sweet treats like macarons and tarts. It was the perfect way to end the trip. I was dressed for a combination of this and berry picking, so I didn’t quite feel in the zone, I’ll need to find someone generous to take my back so I can try again!
And with that, my first press trip was over. It was an amazing trip that allowed me (and through me, you) to learn about and experience some amazing Scottish businesses and some amazing Scottish food. I would totally recommend each of the places mentioned as the value for money, atmosphere, quality of food and entertainment was excellent. All of them are easily accessed by a short journey off the main motorways. Keep your eyes peeled in September/October for my follow up visits!
For information on the Ryder Cup then please see the official website: http://www.rydercup2014.com